Karnataka seems headed for another agitation demanding better reservation by the dominant Lingayat community, the primary votebank of the BJP, barely six months after the first one.
Seers from the Panchamsali sub-sect of the community, who form almost 70 per cent of all Lingayats, are launching a month-long campaign to pressure the government for reservation under the 2A OBC quota.
This time’s protest, however, comes with a twist — one of the seers leading the agitation has hit out at former chief minister BS Yediyurappa’s son BY Vijayendra for “misleading” his father, thus leading to the delays in getting the government to concede 2A reservation.
A ‘Pratigya Panchayat’ campaign will be held from August 26 to September 30, with seers of the main Panchamsali mutt in Kudala Sangama in Bagalkote district holding ‘awareness camps’ in taluk headquarters across the state to get the community together and pressure the government to heed to its quota demands.
Jaya Mruthyunjaya swamiji, the seer leading the protest, told News18 that the campaign is to remind the government of its promise made in the Legislature six months back that it would accord the 2A quota for the Panchamsalis.
In February, the same seers had done a 500-km padayatra demanding this quota, which they said was needed to uplift the vast community both socially and economically, by giving them adequate representation in jobs and education. They had also launched a hunger strike when the Legislature session was on.
“The Yediyurappa government neglected our yatra, because some people misguided him. His son Vijayendra misguided him. Our community, at one time, had fully supported Yediyurappa but now they have taken back that support,” Jaya Mruthyunjaya swami told News18.
With a strength of over 80 lakh in Karnataka’s 6.5 crore population, Lingayats form the dominant votebank for the BJP and are a decisive factor in many assembly constituencies in north Karnataka. The Panchamsali sub-sect constitutes about 70 per cent of the population, and have often wielded their say in many decisions of the BJP government.
All Lingayats (and all their sub-sects) are currently categorised under the 3B quota of reservations when it comes to jobs or educational institutions – this gives them a 5 per cent quota, where they fight for space with many other communities, including Jains and Christians.
A 2A re-classification means they would fall under a quota that has 15 per cent reservations in jobs and educational institutions — which they would share with more than 100 other backward communities such as Kurubas, and Idigas. But considering their numerical strength, they would benefit with a lion’s share of these opportunities under this quota.
Separately, there have also been attempts to recognise Lingayats as a separate, minority, religion, but that debate too is yet to be decided and could take much longer as it vests with the Union government.
The agitation by the Lingayats now is to get the state government to accord them an OBC categorisation that could give them interim benefits. In February, then CM BS Yediyurappa had told the Legislature that he would ask the Backward Castes Commission to carry out a detailed study and submit a report to the government that looks into the population, social, educational and economic backwardness of the community.
Six months down, the community is now re-upping its agitation, besides targetting Yediyurappa and his son.
For the BJP, this is further embarrassment as it is faced with this sensitive and emotional issue since the community has traditionally been its votebank and the campaigns are being held not by citizen groups but by religious seers who wield considerable influence.
“We are confident the current CM Basavaraj Bommai will 100 per cent yield to this demand and give us the quota by end of the year,” Jaya Mruthyunjaya swami said.
Ministers in the BJP government – primarily Murugesh Nirani and CC Patil who both belong to the same sub-sect and had been holding talks with the seers on behalf of the government during the February agitation — refused to comment.
“I got the seers to meet CM Bommai, he has assured them of positive action, what more can we say,” was all CC Patil would say.
Vijayendra, who is also vice-president of the state unit of the party, too declined to comment on the allegations against him.